When Life Calls, Sell Turtles

My father, if there ever was a person, who represented the Wild Man archetype, it is he.

Check this out: When he was a boy, he founded the “Dangerous Animals Club”. What would they do? They would collect dangerous animals, naturally. At the age of sixteen, he was catching all kinds of venomous Texas snakes–rattlesnakes, copperheads, water moccasins, coral snakes, etc. Now, those with a prejudice towards Texas will think, “Well, all country boys do that”. However, my father was a suburban city boy from Dallas and kept those snakes in his back yard in trash cans. What would he do with them? He would extract their venom. Why? For fun, of course. Curiosity may have killed the cat. Bill Hart is clearly not a cat.

He had raccoons, opossum, owls, snakes, squirrels, a red tailed hawk, a dog, thirteen cats and tarantulas as pets…all in the proper city of Dallas.

My parents married very young. My mom was seventeen and my father eighteen. They had to hide their marriage so that they would not be kicked out of high school (it was not permitted to be married AND be in high school. I suppose the authorities feared an epidemic).

They had my sister a little over a year later. Here you have a nineteen year old boy who is faced with the awesome responsibility (and cost) of becoming a father. In the States, hospital bills are expensive–especially when you do not have insurance. So, what did my father do, to be the responsible man who was about to have a baby? He went down to the place he knew best, loved best and which he most frequented–the Trinity River bottoms outside of Dallas. What did he do? He collected over three hundred fifty baby turtles. He then sold those turtles to local area pet stores (it was legal then).

I love that story. My sister’s birth was paid for by the selling of turtles. That is resourcefulness. That is entrepreneurship. That is a proverbial gun to the head. He worked with the resources he had and did as he needed to do.

My father has tons and tons of stories and I love to mine is brain for off the wall yarns. He and his buddy caught the largest water moccasin in Dallas County history. He said that the head was the size of a grown man’s fist and the body as thick as his calf. He and his buddy were hunting these highly poisonous snakes after a large rain storm and looked into the river to see this huge monster swimming downstream. What did he and his buddy do? They lunged into the water and out towards the fast moving snake. One pounced on his head, grabbing it behind the neck and the other grabbed hold of its body. They were thrown around in the water for some time by the muscly snake and finally emerged with this beast in a bag, which they took to the Dallas zoo for measurement of their accomplishment.

Dad grew up with a now well-known actor by the name of Steven Tobolowsky. Steven is well known for his repetitive and funny appearance in “Groundhog Day”, among other films, playing an insurance salesman. When Steven and my dad were kids (both in the Dangerous Animal Club), my dad handed him a snake by the tail. Not knowing what to do with the serpent, Steven apparently nervously asked, “What do I do with it”? My dad said, “Swing it around your head”! So, Steven swung this thing around his head, all the while the serpent was snapping its fangs.

Dad is not only the wild-man archetype, but is the character Shakespeare envisioned as 
Puck. Puck is a hobgoblin and trickster–creating chaos for mortals…to see what happens next. Clearly, my father has passed this set of genes down to myself.

Another time, my dad and his buddy were hunting tarantulas. My father was an experienced woodsman even at a young age, and knew that if you trap a tarantula hole, that they (a large number of them) will exit out another (exit) hole. So, he urged his buddy (Tobolowsky) to put a jar over the exit while my father put a jar with noxious gas over the entrance. Bloop. One popped into the jar. “I got one!”, the boy at the exit cried out. Bloop. Then another and another. bloop. bloop! Bloop! BLOOP! BLOOP! BLOOP!…until the jar was filling up with hairy, giant spiders. What does the recipient of such a gift do with such a circumstance? Such is the wild-man’s humor.

One time his buddies and he decided to give gifts for Christmas. My father, not wanting to be outdone in boyhood games, went to the local slaughter house and asked if he could collect some cow eye balls “for science class”. The slaughter house, presumably hoping to further the cause of young science, acquiesced and my father proceeded to fill up a pickle jar full of giant orange-sized cow eyeballs, each facing outward, of course, and sealed the jar and set a bow atop. Ever been given that gift before?

I love my dad. He has lived a very interesting life and has had many bizarre and fascinating impulses, which he has followed with full bravado and commitment. Perhaps the greatest qualities my father has sent down through my genes are 1. Imagination 2. a natural Puckishness and 3. the willingness and ability to commit 100%.

Dad, this post is for you.

Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway and Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts.

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